December 17, 2018

Press Freedom

Ecuador

Ecuador February 13, 2012

H.E. Rafael Correa
Constitutional President
Palacio de Carondelet
Quito
Republic of Ecuador

Your Excellency:

With other organizations concerned with defending the freedom of the press, we are moved once again to protest measures taken by your government to silence and intimidate the media of Ecuador with measures that seem to be extreme, if not bizarre.

Your government has just adopted measures that presumably will take effect a year from now. The law states that the media “must abstain from promoting directly or indirectly” the campaigns of any candidate during the 90 days leading up to an election. In addition to banning any sort of debate about the merits of a candidate, this provision could easily be used to ban any kind of reporting on the elections for the three months.  How can people decide how to vote if they are denied information, favorable, unfavorable or neutral, about the candidates?

Another provision of the law prohibits contributions for electoral advertisement on TV, radio, in print, or on billboards, if they are financed by individuals, corporations or NGOs – in other words, everyone except the government.  Another provision bans any kind of news, pictures or published opinions about the elections in the 48 hours preceding the vote.

This law, added to the other measures taken to intimidate the press, would seem to set the stage for the kind of elections that take place in authoritarian and totalitarian countries where the incumbent gets 99% of the vote.  It would make a mockery of the election process and subject Ecuador to the kind of universal condemnation that Cuba has earned.

Rather than accept the criticism that any leader is bound to attract, however able he or she may be, you have chosen the path of prosecuting critics for criminal defamation – at a time when the trend is to shift libel and defamation charges to the civil courts.  Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica and Mexico have all de-criminalized such charges in the last few years.  Yet, your government is not only attacking journalists in court, but also imposing disproportionate fines and/or jail terms.

Notably, there is the case of Juan Carlos Calderón and Christian Zurita, who were ordered to pay you damages of $1 million each, plus costs because in their book, Big Brother, they charged that your brother had links to companies that obtained $600 million in state contracts.  You contended that the book constituted an attack on your honor.  A civil court in Pichincha has just ordered them to pay you, even though your brother comfirms the contentions in the book, according to the International Press Institute.

In a more serious case, an appeals court in Guayaquil has upheld a three-year jail sentence and $40-million fine imposed on three executives of El Universo for a critical column written by a columnist who, perhaps prudently, has left the country.

In addition to these actions, you have intimidated the press, describing journalists as “ink assassins” and “vultures.”  Furthermore, your officials have frequently interrupted TV broadcasts, pre-empting news programs at the last minute with government statements.

As we understand, you have argued that “democracy does not exist unless there is total freedom of expression.”  That includes the freedom to criticize even unjustly and unfairly.  And being the target of such criticism is one of the burdens of being a leader of a democracy.

Respectfully yours,

 

Jeremy Main
Larry Martz
Freedom of the Press Committee

cc:

H.E. Nathalie Cely-Suarez
Ambassador of Ecuador to the U.S.A.
Embassy of the Republic of Ecuador
1050 Fifteenth Street, NW
Washington, DC   20007

Ambassador Francisco Carreón-Mena
Permanent Representative
Permanent Mission of the Republic of Ecuador to the United Nations
866 United Nations Plaza
New York, NY 10017
Fax: (212) 935.1835

Mr. Timothy Zúňiga-Brown
Chargé d’Affaires
Embassy of the United States of America
Av. Avigiras E12-170 y Av. Aloy Alfaro
Quito
Ecuador

H.E. Jaime Guerrero-Ruíz
Ministro de Telecomunicaciones e Información
Ave. 6 de Diciembre N25-75 y Colón
Pichincha
Quito
Republic of Ecuador

H.E. Angel Castillo
Ministro de Educación
Calle San Salvador E6-49 y Eloy Alfaro
Quito, Pichincha
Republic of Ecuador

H.E Fernando Alvarado
Secretario Nacional de Communicación
Palacio de Carondelet
Quito
Ecuador

Sr. Arturo Aguirre
Teleamazonas
afera@hotmail.com

Sr. Jaime Mantilla A.
Director
Hoy
jaime@hoy.com.ec

El Universo
politica@eluniverso.com